Since late June, Grace Connection has been helping those in need from the lower level of Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Towanda Borough.
It’s a move that volunteers said has put them in a more central location with better accessibility for those looking for help and in closer proximity to partnering agencies Salvation Army and Futures that serve those in need. It’s also provided more storage space.
According to Volunteer Office Manager Judy (volunteers go only by first names due to privacy concerns), volunteers are still getting adjusted and trying to educate the community about their new location after having been at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church for many years.
“It’s getting around. I do know that. People are finding us,” she said.
During an interview with The Review Thursday afternoon, the Grace Connection phone continually rang from those looking for assistance while other volunteers stayed busy helping those who came through the door.
“This is going to be one of those days,” she said. “There’s some days when I can never get away from the phone. The two other girls, Barbara and Jeanne, handle the clients because I just can’t do it.”
“We’re supposed to be the last resort after they’ve tried other agencies, but sometimes we’re the first,” Jeanne added.
A ministry of a number of area churches, Grace Connection can provide emergency assistance for things like security deposits, rent, and utilities; canned goods; clothing; hygiene items; and even gas cards for those with medical appointments.
Judy noted that the gas cards help a number of local cancer patients with their travel.
“We’re upon fuel oil season right now,” she added. “Right now there are a lot of landlords issuing their eviction notices because they know they can’t do it in a few weeks. We’ve probably had 10 evictions during the last two times we’ve been open, so we’re trying to help them. We want them to stay in their homes and don’t want them out on the street obviously. It’s kind of hard because the rents are so high anymore. We’ve had a lot of families searching for homes — they’ve had to go to work at Burger King or Wendy’s. It’s a good job, but it doesn’t pay as much as you need to pay the rents anymore, and that’s a lot of the problem.”
Grace Connection has also had several homeless people come through their doors, who they have helped with blankets, sleeping bags, hand and foot warmers, and even tents when available.
It’s a problem that often goes unnoticed in the area since those who are homeless aren’t willing to call attention to their plight, Judy said, noting that many find shelter under the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
“I did have a lady who was sleeping in a porta-potty on Merrill Parkway because she was afraid to be elsewhere because she had nowhere to go,” she added.
Grace Connection runs completely on donations and doesn’t receive government funding, enabling the organization to “help who we want, when we want, and how much we want” within the Towanda, Wyalusing, and Northeast Bradford school districts, with hopes to eventually expand services into the western part of the county through new church partnerships.
Even with the financial challenges, the mission continues to help between 500 and 700 people each year.
“I don’t know why, but each month we’re able to keep trudging along,” Judy said.
“I think we are being blessed from above,” Jeanne added. “Somehow we keep going.”
For Grace Connection volunteers, being able to provide help in people’s time of need makes what they do worth it.
“Ken (another volunteer) gave a little boy this little (stuffed) dog. He sat and petted it the whole time he was there. When he got up, he grabbed Ken, looked up, and said, ‘Thank you, mister.’ We lost it,” Judy said. ”That makes everything worthwhile when you have people that grateful.”
To help keep the mission going, Grace Connection welcomes local youth, organizations, and others who are interested to hold fundraisers for them. They are also asking for donations of canned soups, beef stews and chilis — anything with meats — as well as cracker snack packs with tuna for families with small children. Easy to prepare packs of mashed potatoes are also welcome.
Grace Connection can be contacted at (570) 268-0431. Its hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.
Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 122, Towanda, PA 18848.